Connections: Fighting Father Neptune

Shoreline experts say the structure will inevitably devour what beach is left in Montauk’s downtown area

It takes courage and tremendous power of persuasion to convince the electorate, and the powers-that-be, that the general consensus on a matter of public policy is wrong. Kevin McAllister and Mike Bottini showed that courage when they filed a lawsuit last week to try to stop the construction by the Army Corps of Engineers of a 3,100-foot-long and 50-foot-wide revetment along the ocean beach at Montauk. I’m not so sure about their powers of persuasion.

Defend H20, which Mr. McAllister founded not long ago, and Mr. Bottini, who happens to be chairman of the Eastern Long Island chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, brought suit against every entity involved — the Army Corps, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, East Hampton Town, and Suffolk County.

Shoreline experts say the structure will inevitably devour what beach is left in Montauk’s downtown area. The evidence also is clear that without massive erosion-control measures, and ongoing maintenance, some of Montauk’s prime resorts will eventually be destroyed in storms. It’s an inherent conflict, and except for the plaintiffs in the suit, local officials and other environmental organizations have opted to take the side of the private property owners. It seems as simple as that.

East Hampton Supervisor Larry Cantwell and the members of the town board allowed nominally higher government agencies to take over. They may have thought the right of property owners to protect their considerable investments was more compelling than protecting the public beach, or they may have feared, given Montauk opinion, that opposing the Army Corps plan would tear the town apart.

But well-meaning local environmental organizations also stood down. They are, of course, run by boards of directors who, regardless of acumen or dedication to the natural world, tend to be people of certain wealth who value property rights highly; the more valuable properties are, such as Montauk’s oceanfront motels, the more powerful their influence.

The Group for the East End and the Peconic Baykeeper, which might have been expected to warn that the project would have a negative effect on the beach, have not been heard from, while Concerned Citizens of Montauk, which raised pertinent questions about metho­dology, apparently is ready to accept its construction. Nor have the town trus­tees said anything, although it is unlikely their opinion would matter.

Tremendous power of persuasion would have been needed to convince the town and its taxpayers that the current Army Corps project and the long-term costs of maintaining or rebuilding the structure would be more costly than finding a way to do the right thing, by which I mean saving the beach. Proactively moving some of the endangered motels away from the oceanfront and arranging for others to be reconstructed elsewhere after heavy damage in the future would have been required.

What is about to happen may do no more than delay the inevitable, and with money to be made until then, it is no surprise.